Babies are often romanticized (so to speak) in romances, which tend to focus on pregnancy and only show us infants in glowing sunlit epilogues or cheerful cameos in sequels which focus on family and friends. It’s a rare book that throws you into the teeth of sleepless, unshowered, spit-up-encrusted life with a newborn – probably because, let’s be real, it’s hard to have enough energy for the relationships you have, let alone a new one.
Oddly enough, the most realistic portrayal of an infant I’ve read in a romance is in a young adult book, The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick. This review has spoilers in it for this book, and definitely spoilers for the first book in the series (My Life Next Door), so proceed with caution.
The hero Tim is a human trainwreck (classmates completed that sentence with phrases like “drive his car into a house” or “find the liquor cabinet blindfolded.”) After his parents kick him out, Tim moves in with his best friend and begins falling in love with the friend’s sister, Alice, when a girl from his partying days turns up – with a newborn. This frazzled, miserable girl and the shell-shocked Tim react differently to the baby Calvin, as Tim starts to love him while the mother talks adoption. Throughout it all, Fitzpatrick (herself a mother of six) is graphically honest about what it takes to raise an infant.
Caring for Cal is exhausting, and he doesn’t just cry or need a bottle at moments when the author needs something to interrupt the protagonists. Tim freaks out when Cal poops so far up his back it goes into his hat. The mother breaks down sobbing about the stitches she had to have post-delivery. I’ve never heard a romance novel mention vaginal tearing before.
But just like real life, it’s not all a horrorshow. Cal refuses to keep socks on. Tim notices the little roll of baby chub at the base of his neck, like his head hasn’t grown into itself yet. And sometimes, the worst moments lead to the best ones:
Blue eyes so red, he looks like he needs an exorcism, deep painful breaths, knees yanked up hard to his chest. It’s bum-crack of morning, Cal’s miserable, and I have no clue how to fix him… My ears hurt so bad and I want so damn much to put him down and go into another room, shut the door. Go outside, onto the lawn, down the street, to the beach. I mean – no one’s ever died from crying, right? Maybe he’ll just wear himself out?
So. I don’t leave. The least I can do. I just keep on holding him while he thrashes around like a hammerhead on a line…
Pick him up and put him on my stomach, hold tight to his tense, flailing body. He collapses, sweaty, all his damp red waves flopped down, instead of sticking straight up as usual. After a long while, as though it’s taken time to collect his strength, he raises his big heavy head back up and looks me straight in the eyes.
Dad. Hi, Dad.
Then, like his smile has taken all his energy, he slumps his head to the side, grabs a handful of my chest hair, snorts loudly, and tumbles off to sleep.
What about you? Have you read any romances where the infants were real, and so was the depiction of trying to care for them? Do you have any favorites? Alternately, do you have any hall of shame infant stories, where the mothers always glow and babies always sleep unless there’s a makeout session to interrupt?
~ Caroline Russomanno